Business & Real Estate

Unemployment falls to record-low territory in Sacramento and across the state

A worker gathers products at the Macy’s fulfillment center in Sacramento. Holiday hiring helped push unemployment rates into record-low territory in Sacramento and statewide in November.
A worker gathers products at the Macy’s fulfillment center in Sacramento. Holiday hiring helped push unemployment rates into record-low territory in Sacramento and statewide in November. rpench@sacbee.com

A building boom and an influx of new jobs have driven Sacramento’s unemployment rate to record-low territory. California’s, too.

The region’s unemployment rate dropped four-tenths of a percentage point in November to 3.7 percent, matching the lowest rate in greater Sacramento since at least 1990, the state Employment Development Department said Friday. Sacramento unemployment hit 3.7 percent twice during the dot-com boom, in May 1999 and December 2000, said EDD labor market consultant Cara Welch.

“That’s remarkable,” said economist Jeff Michael of the University of the Pacific. He said the region’s job growth has improved measurably in recent months after becoming “fairly stagnant” in the first half of 2017.

“The momentum is there to keep it going another year,” he said, although he doubts the unemployment rate can fall much further than it has.

Statewide unemployment also fell sharply in November, to 4.6 percent from 4.9 percent a month earlier. The 4.6 percent statewide rate is the lowest since 1976, according to data compiled by economist Sung Won Sohn of California State University, Channel Islands. The EDD said California employers added 47,400 workers to their payrolls last month.

Although much of the job growth in November was seasonal, as employers geared up for the holidays, the new numbers also dovetail with other signs that the economy has been continuing to perk along in recent months.

Amazon’s distribution center, a massive facility opened in October near Sacramento International Airport, will employ 1,500 workers at full build-out. The sprawling Ice Blocks residential and commercial complex opened in midtown over the summer, further evidence of a construction boom that’s been fed in part by the surge of Bay Area transplants.

Figures released Thursday by the state Department of Finance showed robust population growth in the Sacramento region compared with the rest of the state. Placer County was the fastest growing in California with a population increase of 1.6 percent in the 12-month period ending July 1. The other counties in the metropolitan region – Sacramento, Yolo and El Dorado – also grew by more than 1 percent. The statewide population grew by 0.8 percent.

Meanwhile, Sacramento recently announced one of its biggest economic development triumphs in years, the expected arrival of Fortune 500 insurer Centene Corp.’s West Coast headquarters. The project will create thousands of jobs over the course of several years.

Michael said he was struck that warehouse employment has become one of the fastest-growing elements of the Sacramento economy. Payrolls have swelled by 10 percent in the sector that includes warehousing.

“It’s the Amazon effect,” he said.

All told, Sacramento employers added 4,400 jobs during November, led by restaurants, retailers and wholesalers. Welch said November’s hiring in those holiday-related sectors was greater than usual, and the numbers surpass seasonal trends. For instance, restaurants employ 5,700 more workers than they did a year ago, a gain of 8 percent.

Michael said Sacramento’s job growth has been so strong, the region may be facing a labor shortage before too long. “We need to pull some skilled workers back into the labor force,” he said.

At the statewide level, job growth is continuing to be driven to a great degree by the Bay Area’s high-tech economy. Unemployment was a microscopic 2.2 percent in San Francisco last month, 2.7 percent in San Jose and 3 percent in the East Bay. Other coastal regions are prospering as well, with unemployment falling to 4.5 percent in Los Angeles and 2.8 percent in Orange County.

At the same time, the longstanding socioeconomic divide continues between coastal California and the inland regions. Of the state’s 58 counties, nine had unemployment rates of at least 7 percent last month, including Sutter (7.5 percent), Fresno (7.6 percent) and Colusa (13.6 percent). Unemployment was highest in Imperial County at 19.8 percent.

Dale Kasler: 916-321-1066, @dakasler

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